There is a lot of business buzz about being a life-long learner, continually refreshing and upskilling to keep pace with the latest tools, technologies, methodologies, and frameworks. Learning new skills and sharpening your saw is particularly important as the business world strives to become more agile. In today’s world, we call this Continuous Learning – a professional development concept that enables employees to learn while they work. The model allows workers to regularly acquire new knowledge, skills, and abilities to become better at their jobs.
As employees become better at their jobs, their organizations also benefit by having happier, more motivated team members armed to innovate in ways that provide the organization with a competitive advantage through the value they deliver to their clients. They are also better able to adapt to changes in the workplace and position themselves to take on more senior roles within the organization. All the while, these activities tend to build loyalty among employees. Sounds great, right?
The main barrier we see in adopting Continuous Learning in the workplace is demanding schedules. For those on contract to the government or commercial clients, there is incredible pressure to be billable 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, leaving little time for formal learning during regular work hours. And, for some, they are unable or frankly unwilling to spend time before or after hours on learning activities. So, how can employees overcome hectic schedules to find time for the critical learning required to advance their careers and help achieve organizational goals?
In most organizations, existing programming allows workers to carve out time for learning with minimal disruption to their demanding schedules. So find out what’s available in your organization and take full advantage of it. Look for things like the following:
- Lunch and Learn sessions – spending one or two lunch hours a month learning something new is a small price to pay to keep pace.
- Internal self-paced training – if your organization has this type of training available, peruse the offerings and see if any are suitable. For example, you may be able to take short courses or modular courses over time so that the time you need to invest is manageable.
- Communities of Practice – joining a CoP is a great way to connect with other people who do what you do and share knowledge among members. For example, the BigBear.ai Cyber and Engineering Agile Services team holds a bi-weekly Agilist Community of Practice meeting, which is open to any BigBear.ai employee who practices Agile or is preparing to do so.
- Book Club – Yes, a book club. Many companies or organizations have them. If your organization doesn’t have a book club, the recipe is simple:
- Assemble a small team interested in a topic.
- Choose a book.
- Break it into manageable segments.
- Choose a leader for each subject.
- Schedule several one-hour meetings (one per topic). Each topic leader prepares a brief presentation for the group. Then participants discuss their views of the content presented and how it might be applicable in their work environment.
- The idea is to identify 2-3 actionable items from the book that the team can implement to improve their work.
- Mentor – Is there a person in your work environment that you particularly admire for some reason? Seek out their advice on your development. Model their behavior. See if they are willing to mentor you as you work to develop specific skills. Mentoring can be done informally or more formally if your company or organization has a formal mentoring program.
Working on honing your soft skills is just as important, and this you can do on the job. Employees who can communicate effectively, think critically, and have emotional intelligence are far better able to nurture their professional relationships and stand out. Again, finding a mentor whose skills in these areas might be your best bet in terms of working on developing these skills yourself.
Cindy Currie is Deputy Director of Agile Training Services at BigBear.ai. She has over 30 years of experience in global program management and more than a decade of experience in digital transformations and agile frameworks and methods.